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Lent is right around the corner, and this year I want to do more than simply give up wine or sweets or facebook. Something Pope Francis said in his recent message for Lent struck me in a new way:
“… wherever we go, we are called as Christians to proclaim the liberating news that forgiveness for sins committed is possible, that God is greater than our sinfulness, that he freely loves us at all times and that we were made for communion and eternal life. The Lord asks us to be joyous heralds of this message of mercy and hope!”
I try to picture myself in that role of joyous herald in, say, my neighborhood — and I realize, I have a problem. Nobody talks about sin anymore. Few people would say they are “sinful” or need forgiveness. Where is the “felt need” I can speak to? And how can I, who have no dramatic saved-from-the-depths story, be a witness?
The Holy Father provides a strong reminder: that the way God works is to reveal himself in weakness and poverty. He does this not for the heck of it, but in order to comfort and save us and free us from our misery. That is the “logic” of the way he loves us: he becomes poor, that we might be rich. By extension, that should be the logic of our love for others.
What, then, is the logic behind love for our neighbors who do not know sin? I can’t come from some “holier than thou” position of pointing out sin. If Jesus “became sin, who knew no sin” – if Jesus was baptized, who knew no sin – then I must begin from a position of spiritual poverty.
I plan to become poor in spirit this Lent, so I can give from my poverty. Along with giving up certain material things, I want to focus on what it means that I am a sinner in need of forgiveness, and enter more deeply into God’s great offer of mercy.
The Church offers a time-tested way to do this: the seven “penitential psalms,” traditionally recited daily or on Fridays during Lent as a way to recognize our sinfulness, express sorrow, and encounter God’s merciful love. One tradition is to pair each Psalm with one of the seven capital sins (aka the seven “deadly” sins)–which enables one to be more specific in private meditation and prayer.
Will you join me in praying and meditating on the penitential psalms this Lent? You can read all seven of them every day, or all every Friday, or focus on one each week as I will do. They are Psalms 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, and 143. Here are several ways to get started:
1. Sign up to receive my blog posts, and get a psalm and instructions in your mailbox each Friday during Lent together with a brief meditation from me
2. Follow this free download that pairs each penitential psalm with one of the seven capital sins and includes an antiphon and Glory Be for each.
3. Visit the US Catholic Bishops website, which provides the text of the psalms and offers a written and audio meditation for each.
Along with Pope Francis, I encourage you to “undertake a fruitful Lenten journey” (you can read the full text of his message here). And may the God of mercy and love be with you!
© 2014 Sarah Christmyer
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2016 update: Set aside ten minutes a day during Lent for a “spiritual cleanse” using my new journal based on these posts, Create in Me a Clean Heart: 10 Minutes a Day in the Penitential Psalms, available in paperback and on Kindle.